Khadeejah Ahmed ’14 – News Editor

Claire Fraeyman ’14 – News

Rachael Boeve ’14 – News

Seth Logan ’14 – News

With the world’s entire pool of data accessible at people’s fingertips, internet safety has become an essential skill to surfing the web in the modern age. Unfortunately, many internet users seem to be unaware of the dangers of the internet, as well as possible repercussions they may face as a result of their actions. While the web can be a powerful tool and help make lives easier around the world, it also poses several threats to its users, in the form of Cyber Predators, Illegal File sharing, and identity theft.

Illegal Pictures

One of the most popular features on Facebook is to post pictures. Not only do people share information and pictures via Facebook, but other picture sharing applications such as Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat have recently become popular. Although sharing pictures with others is a great way to keep in touch with friends and family, it can easily be abused when people are unaware of the legal ramifications of photo sharing.

After surveying 100 students, the average Romeo Facebook user has 402 friends while the average Twitter user has 334 followers. With so many friends and followers, once a picture is posted it’s impossible to know exactly where the picture may go next. Users can re-Tweet, share, or even screenshot a posted picture, resulting in the original uploader losing their jurisdiction over who sees it. This loose control may seem acceptable for one’s typical “selfie” or puppy photos, but what happens when the pictures aren’t  “PG rated,” or the user has not received permission to share the photo?

Olivia Brown (12) shares her thoughts on the unknown bounds a questionable picture can reach.

“Even if you think that you’re sending an inappropriate picture to someone who is trustworthy and wouldn’t do anything to hurt you, relationships can always go bad and once you send it you can’t take it back,” Brown said.

Sexting, the sending of sexually explicit pictures via mobile phone, has become popular in today’s culture. An Internet safety site named PCs N Dreams stated that twenty percent of teens have sent or posted nude or semi-nude pictures of themselves. Forty-four percent of both males and females admitted that sexually suggestive text messages or pictures are somehow shared with people rather than the intended recipient.

Sam Schmelzer (12) believes that there is an underlying lesson to be learned by all.

“I think that this statistic should be a lesson to people not to send pictures like that,” Schmelzer said.  “Guys and girls should both respect themselves enough to not send those pictures.”

Another method that has increased exponentially since its creation in 2011 is Snapchat. Snapchat is a app that lets users send pictures and videos that are immediately deleted after only being viewed once. In a survey conducted by Survata, a trusted interview and survey site, that interviewed 5,475 US Snapchat users from ages 18-29, concluded that thirteen percent of users confessed to using Snapchat as a sexting app.

What most teens don’t comprehend, however, are the legal ramifications of sexting. What may seem like a harmless picture could actually be breaking the law. USLegal.com, a website that states legal ramifications of child pornography, informs us that “sexting is a punishable offence in the U.S. and teenagers texting sexually explicit photographs of themselves, or of their friends or partners, can be charged with distribution of child pornography and those who receive the images can been charged with possession of child pornography,” (USLegal.com).

Connor Kowalke (12) reflects on his generation’s lack of comprehension on what constitutes child pornography.

“Child pornography isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when one thinks about sexting,” Kowalke said. “ I think often kids think they are just swapping pics with friends or boyfriends and girlfriends.  Unfortunately, the reality is these pictures are often shared or traded amongst  ‘friends’. The legal consequences should warn people not to do it, and you are spreading child porn.”

However, if unsuitable pictures reach school grounds, not only does one break the law but one also breaks school rules. Mr. Cococcetta, Romeo High School’s assistant principal, investigates cases and described the ramifications if a picture were to be leaked into school grounds.

 

“As soon as an inappropriate picture hits school property we have to investigate,” Mr. Cococcetta said. “We can’t erase everything but we try and find the root of the problem and eliminate it. Suspension is typically the punishment but depending on the severity we must call the authorities. We are swift, quick, and consistent with our punishments.”

With so many methods to share pictures in today’s world, photos can easily be shared and leave the screen of the intended recipient. Uploading and posting pictures brings people together but, like many situations in life, privileges can easily be abused. Sexting and the sharing of obscene pictures is not taken lightly by the law, school administration, or by others.

Internet Identity Theft

According to internetworldstats.com, an Internet World Usage Statistics website for all countries and regions of the world, 2,405,518,376 people use the internet on a daily basis. This constant connection to the web heightens the risk of exposing the personal information stored in one’s computer.

Ronald LeBlanc, an economic and civics teacher at RETC, discusses the damage of exposure of personal information.

“The damage and headache that can be caused by losing your identity can be crippling,” LeBlanc said.  “The victim can spend many years trying to resolve bad debt run up by thieves in their names. Many will struggle to be able to borrow money because of the damage to their credit scores. Others will be forced to file bankruptcy and lose their homes.”

Identity theft  is the fraudulent acquisition and use of a person’s private identifying information, usually for financial gain. Key pieces of personal identifying information, like social security numbers, driver’s license numbers, credit card numbers, bank account information, and electronic tax returns, should be kept private. But criminals don’t only steal personal information. They can gain complete control of your computer to hack into other systems with ease.

Mark Nelson, Romeo Community’s Executive Director of Technology, advised that students be careful when visiting sites.

“Students should pay attention to details on the web pages they visit,” Nelson said. “Images and messages that entice the user to “click here” should be considered risky or harmful.  Hovering over links usually displays the true destination in the bottom left of the screen.  Read the URL (Uniform Resource Locator). ”

Often, the basis of identity theft comes from programs that operate as Spyware. Spyware runs in the background silently while recording browsing habits and monitoring the programs used. It travels over the internet and infects computers covertly through downloading files and software, opening pop ups and email attachments, and by visiting harmful websites, all without the users knowledge. The criminal who placed spyware on a computer then receives access to personal information and can cause extensive damage; from opening credit cards and bank accounts under the victims name, to selling their information to other parties to use for illegal purposes.

“Many spyware installations come along with software that is intentionally installed,” Nelson said. “Search toolbars, file sharing programs, free music download sites, and ads are common sources for spyware. It is important to be aware of spyware and malware so your computer does not become infected.  Infected computers are sluggish, display pop-ups, and can change settings on your computer and track your activities.  In worst case scenarios, messages and passwords can be stolen, and important accounts can be compromised.”

Identity Theft also occurs through social media. Since personal information must be exposed to use most networking sites, any individuals participating are at risk of identity theft. Many of the activities and services social networks provide may lead to greater risks. Some of these things include: using low privacy setting, downloading free apps on your profile, taking quizzes that require some personal information, falling for email scams, and clicking on links leading to other websites.

Jack Smith (12), a common user of social media, although he has a lot of followers, he knows the importance of keeping his information private.

“I believe that a lot of times I post my personal opinion that not everyone needs to see,” Smith said. “Also I don’t like strangers being able to look at my selfies and finding out anything personal about me.”

Although it is nearly impossible to be completely safe if you are an internet user, there are ways to protect yourself. A firewall can prevent access by unauthorized external attempts to connect to your computer. When downloading programs onto a computer, be careful to know the exact source and content of the file being installed. Install anti-spam and antivirus software to identify known spyware and malware threats and viruses that try and attack your computer. When applying for anything on the internet be sure to put out as little information as possible, create a strong password, and change it regularly. When using social networks, be smart about what you post and verify all emails and links before opening them. It is important to read all privacy and security policies closely and use precautions when using the internet.

Cyber Predators

Predators are hard to distinguish. At first glance, they seem just like any other person on the internet, with their convincing profile, complete with a fake name, pictures and length backstory. Then they take the charade a step further, befriending kids and teens on the web by acting trustworthy, and pretending to share similar interests. Eventually, they may even ask for pictures or even to meet the student.

Studies conducted by the Rochester Institute of Technology show that more than 50 percent of children in kindergarten or first grade talk to strangers on the Internet.

Andrea Page, a mother of a first grader, was startled to hear about the studies.

“It’s a scary thought that it’s so unpoliced,”Page said. “Parents should be monitoring how much their kids are on the computer and what sites the kids are on, and using parental controls to keep them safe. It definitely compromises their safety, and as adults we are responsible for securing the safety of our kids.”

But young children are not the only ones at risk of online predators. According to guardchild.com, a website that compiles research information from various sources, teens ages 14-17 account for over 77 percent of all cyber predator victims.

Claire Fraeyman (12) was sixteen years old when a stranger contacted her on Facebook and asked her about her whereabouts. After this situation, she knew that she needed to be more conscious about the things she makes public.

 “I had a guy that I didn’t know message me on Facebook after I left the doctor’s office asking if I just left the doctor’s office,” said Fraeyman. He took the time to seek me out even though we were strangers. I didn’t respond but it really freaked me out.”

Most of those teens don’t recognize the danger in sharing personal information on their profiles. Almost every teenager uses the Internet, and most of them have a social networking account on one website or another.

Monica Meirow (12) is familiar with the feeling of security that most teens feel on the Internet.

“I never really thought about it,” Meirow said. “I mean, I use Twitter a lot but I’ve never really thought about putting personal stuff on there because I’m not a little kid. I don’t feel like I’m in danger.”

In addition to teens not recognizing the dangers of sharing personal information, many teens have knowingly been approached by a suspicious person on the Internet. 95 percent of teens from Romeo admit to being messaged or contacted by a stranger.

Brenna Diffenderfer (12) believes that kids her age should be more knowledgeable of the dangers of the web.

“I don’t think anyone takes these dangers seriously,” Diffenderfer said, “You always hear people say, ‘Some old guy I’ve never met messaged me started asking weird questions,’ and they treat it like it’s a joke. They don’t understand that they could be in danger and they need to be more careful of who they talk to.”

The internet can be an asset, or an instrument that magnifies mistakes. Convenience comes at the cost of privacy, and it’s important for users to account for the lack of confidentiality. Threats will always exist, but that risk can easily be diminished through surfing with caution. But fail to do so, and it can cost a user their identity, their freedom, and ultimately, their peace of mind.

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